By PBN Staff
SOUTH KINGSTOWN - Stating he did not come to Rhode Island “to play it safe and collect a paycheck,” University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley in his inaugural on Thursday promised to strengthen the university’s research collaborations and partnerships with the private sector and state, while ensuring students graduate prepared for the global challenges of the 21st century.
In so doing, the 57-year-old former provost at Montana State University forcefully rejected the “pervasive pessimism” he said suggests the state is somehow doomed to stumble along as a prisoner of past failures.
“Since moving to Rhode Island, I have heard the phrase ‘only in Rhode Island’ innumerable times,’ Dooley said. “I’m sure all Rhode Islanders know the context much better than I. After sharing a story relating to corruption, bureaucratic bungling, general ineptitude, blatant hypocrisy, woeful government, self-defeating behaviors or simple scams, the storyteller will conclude with rueful shrug and the punch line, ‘only in Rhode Island.’
“I must confess that occasionally after hearing one of these stories my reaction is: ‘If you think these kinds of things happen only in Rhode Island, then you need to get out more.’ And maybe, sometimes, that is the heart of the matter.”
But Dooley suggested the widespread use of the phrase also suggests “the conviction, even the fear that … we are trapped by our history. … That is not what I see.”
Dooley, the university’s 11th president, said work has already begun in a host of areas at the university, including strengthening the URI community, collaboration with Brown University and “leveraging the enormous capabilities of the faculty and students at URI to assist businesses.” He also cited efforts to work with the state and Rhode Island College to design and build a state-of-the-art nursing-education facility in Providence.
Dooley began his speech describing his youth in a California farming community influenced by the “hard, rough legacies of the Dust Bowl, Great Depression and global war.” But there was optimism and hope for the future, too.
He showed a sense of humor discussing a period in his life when “I lost my faith in God. God seemed to take it well and, in hindsight, appears to have said: ‘Look, if you cannot believe in me, then believe in this – the value of education, the importance of learning, the goal of wisdom.’ And I did, and now, here I am.”
He laid out his vision for turning URI into a 21st-century university, which he said will require it to be “relentlessly innovative, flexible, responsive and adaptable.”
“The 21st-century university will be characterized by a 24/7 learning environment for students that extends beyond the traditional classroom.”
Dooley’s speech in The Ryan Center followed campus discussions on Wednesday focused on the university’s transforming role in areas such as education, economic development and health care.